From Tom Leach, the Voice of the Wildcats…
Seeding is not the be-all-end-all for success in the NCAA Tournament but it does matter. More 1-seeds have made the Final Four than 2’s, more 2’s than 3’s, etc. and a ‘1’ has never lost its first game in the tourney.
As of today, we’re 10 weeks out from Selection Sunday and conventional wisdom says Kentucky needed to beat Louisville to keep hope alive for getting a number one seed from the selection committee. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who put the phrase “Bracketology” into the sports lexicon, says that thinking is correct but the Wildcats will probably need some help to be one of the four teams on the top line of the bracketing.
I caught up to Lunardi on Friday afternoon and we’ll play the full interview on the radio show this week. But as Kentucky prepares to being SEC play Wednesday night against Mississippi State, I asked Lunardi to offer a guess on “how many league losses can UK afford to take and still have a shot to get a ‘1’ seed?”
“I would say two. I think it’s unlikely for Kentucky (to get a ‘1’ seed). I don’t think it diminishes their Final Four capability but I think too many other teams ahead of them that have done more out of conference. I think that horse has probably left the barn but your question is a fair one and 16-2, 17-1 in certainly going to put them back in the conversation,” Lunardi told “The Leach Report.”
I don’t foresee this Kentucky team losing in Rupp Arena so here is my ranking of the Cats’ eight SEC road games, in order of degree of difficulty:
1. at Missouri, February 1–most would rank Florida here but I’m going with the trip to Mizzou because it comes five weeks earlier than the trip to Gainesville. Also, MU has won 26 straight on its home floor and is 41-1 under coach Frank Haith. And given that it’ll be UK’s first trip there in its history, the crowd will be even more jacked up than even the normal Super Bowl-level for a visit from the Cats.
2. at Florida, March 8–the Gators are a Final Four contender so it’s not hard to understand why they rank high on this list.
3. at Arkansas, January 14–the Hogs are once again unbeaten at home and given this will be only the third true road game of the season for UK, that makes this challenge tougher than some others. I also wonder about how the game will be called, since playing in Bud Walton Arena is usually equivalent to going through an overly-aggressive TSA pat down. The new points of emphasis for officials this season should change that.
4. at LSU, January 28–I might have ranked this one a notch higher until Rhode Island went into Baton Rouge and won. Nevertheless, Johnny Jones has a big and talented team.
5. at Ole Miss, February 18–Marshall Henderson is always capable of taking over a game but if last year’s UK team could win there, this one should be able to do the same. Also, the position on the schedule, on the heels of the Florida/Gameday game in Rupp, might leave the Cats prone to a bit of a letdown.
6. at Vandy, January 11–crazy things have happened in Memorial Gym for the Commodores but I just don’t think this Vandy team is good enough to upset UK.
7. at Mississippi State, February 8–the Bulldogs’ record is good but they have played an incredibly soft schedule and they should have taken several SEC losses by the time this game rolls around.
8. at South Carolina, March 1—the Gamecocks have played a far tougher schedule than State but Frank Martin’s club has struggled even in easier spots. Also, the crowd for UK’s last visit to Columbia featured more blue than maroon and by the first of week of March, this Kentucky should been nearing a peak level.
–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network